Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Secret Detention in Pakistan

Well this is a depressing development in Pakistan. Nicholas Kristof alerts us to the fact that Mukhtaran Bibi, the young woman who was sentenced to gang rape by her village elders because of an infraction supposedly committed by her brother and lived to fight against it and see her persecutors prosecuted – and has become a bit of a heroine in Pakistan for her actions -- she used the money she received from the court to open schools in her village for both boys and girls – is now being detained illegally in Pakistan by the Musharraf government. They've prevented her from coming to the US, at the invitation of Pakistani-Americans, to talk about her situation and what she has done about it.

Apparently the Pakistani government doesn't want her "defaming" Pakistan before the Western press.

A group of Pakistani-Americans invited Ms. Mukhtaran to visit the U.S. starting this Saturday (see www.4anaa.org). Then a few days ago, the Pakistani government went berserk.

On Thursday, the authorities put Ms. Mukhtaran under house arrest - to stop her from speaking out. In phone conversations in the last few days, she said that when she tried to step outside, police pointed their guns at her. To silence her, the police cut off her land line.

After she had been detained, a court ordered her attackers released, putting her life in jeopardy. That happened on a Friday afternoon, when the courts do not normally operate, and apparently was a warning to Ms. Mukhtaran to shut up. Instead, Ms. Mukhtaran continued her protests by cellphone. But at dawn yesterday the police bustled her off, and there's been no word from her since. Her cellphone doesn't answer.

Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani lawyer who is head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said she had learned that Ms. Mukhtaran was taken to Islamabad, furiously berated and told that President Pervez Musharraf was very angry with her. She was led sobbing to detention at a secret location. She is barred from contacting anyone, including her lawyer.

"She's in their custody, in illegal custody," Ms. Jahangir said. "They have gone completely crazy."

Even if Ms. Mukhtaran were released, airports have been alerted to bar her from leaving the country. According to Dawn, a Karachi newspaper, the government took this step, "fearing that she might malign Pakistan's image."

Excuse me, but Ms. Mukhtaran, a symbol of courage and altruism, is the best hope for Pakistan's image. The threat to Pakistan's image comes from President Musharraf for all this thuggish behavior.

I've been sympathetic to Mr. Musharraf till now, despite his nuclear negligence, partly because he's cooperated in the war on terrorism and partly because he has done a good job nurturing Pakistan's economic growth, which in the long run is probably the best way to fight fundamentalism. So even when Mr. Musharraf denied me visas all this year, to block me from visiting Ms. Mukhtaran again and writing a follow-up column, I bit my tongue.

But now President Musharraf has gone nuts.

Sigh. If only the Pakistanis would be this zealous in pursuing Al Qaeda members and charging them with crimes and locking them up. They seem to have treated AQ Khan, who sold nuclear secrets for personal profit on the nuclear black market, much more gently than this woman.

Nicholas Kristof has done some truly amazing work this year, alerting readers to the situations of women in peril all around the world. I read about the reversal of the court's decision last week – but there was no additional context to it and the newspapers did not comment on either the haste of the decision to drag it into court just then or the other things that contributed to the agenda of the court. So I was just bemused and disappointed.

UPDATE: And now an Indian Muslim woman is ordered to marry her father-in-law, who raped her.

An Indian woman who was allegedly raped by her father-in-law is now being ordered by a Muslim council of community elders to marry him.

The council says under Islamic law the rape has nullified her marriage, according to media reports.

But a top Muslim body in India has rejected the argument saying it is not valid under Sharia (Islamic) law.

It says the council was not authorised to give such a verdict and added that the alleged rapist should be punished.

Reports say the 28-year-old woman was raped when she was alone at home in Charthawal, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

When the incident came to the notice of the council, it ordered that she marry her father-in-law and change her relationship with her husband to that between a mother and son.

It also ordered her to leave her home and stay away for seven month and 10 days to become "pure".

Police action

A senior police officer, Amrinder Singh Senger, told the BBC that police have now filed a case against the woman's father-in-law.

Good thing they didn't try to settle it by honor killing. Would the son have felt obliged to kill his wife, raped by his father, to save his family honor?

These councils of village elders seem pernicious in the extreme – if you are a woman, at least. And these stories are only what gets reported to us. I can only imagine what we don't hear about. A little basic education might do wonders to help these village elders. But I imagine it will be long years before their influence is eradicated.

Hat Tip on the Update: Ann Althouse

UPDATE II: Apparently Mukhtaran Bibi has been released from confinement.

Under pressure from Washington, the Pakistani government on Wednesday lifted its travel restrictions on Mukhtar Mai, whose gang-rape and its aftermath set off worldwide outrage at the treatment of women in Pakistan.

Mukhtar Mai, also known as Mukhtaran Bibi, was to visit the United States last week at the invitation of human rights groups, but she found her name on the government's list of people barred from traveling abroad. The restriction met with bitter protests from human rights advocates, here and abroad, as well as objections from the State Department.

"We were confronted with what I can only say was an outrageous situation where her attackers were ordered to be freed while she had restrictions on her travel placed on her," Sean McCormack, a State Department spokesman, said at a briefing in Washington on Wednesday. "We conveyed our views about these restrictions to the senior levels of the Pakistani government."

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